While I did not keep a journal while I was in Haiti, I did write several letters about my experiences there. Before mailing them off, I think I will post them here so they can be read by all. In the future I might break them up into separate blog entries with the appropriate dates and associated pictures.
Monday, January 31, 2005 – I am in Haiti now. It’s kinda like Ecuador except that everything’s French or Creole instead of Spanish.
We met at the church at 3:30am and piled in a bus headed for the airport. Checking in our luggage was a busy event because we used nearly our maximum allowance taking clothes to donate and building supplies. It turned out that two of our items were oversize, 2 more were overweight, and packing a used engine will trigger the bomb sensors due to traces of gasoline. The flights went smoothly. Picking up our luggage and getting to the F.O.H.O. guest house was hectic, but we were warned of this. They have lots of porters at the airport who are very eager to help us with our luggage. With about ten carts full of luggage, the ends up being quite a production. I was never quite sure which ones were paid to help us. We put the luggage on the back of two trucks, and most of us sat on top for the ride from the airport. Our compound is at 28B Delmas, which is on one of Port-au-Prince’s biggest roads. They have traffic lights here, but they don’t have any power!
Tuesday, February 1, 2005 – I laid block today. I’m not particularly good at it. Another guy, Scott, is an apprentice bricklayer, and he taught me how to do it. I understand some of what I’m supposed to do, but that’s not the same as being able to do it. There are a couple other difficulties involved in our task. We had to pour some concrete, which involved improvising the forms from blocks and scraps of wood, as well as figuring out how to ask the Haitians to make some concrete. There seemed like only one guy knew what should be doing, and he was only around part of the time because he had other responsibilities. The Haitian foreman liked to stop by and show us how he liked things to be done, which was different from how Scott had been taught to work. I spent a lot of time standing around.
In the afternoon I heard some firecrackers which turned out to be gunfire. Nathan was working on the roof and said he saw people shooting at UN forces. I’m not going to write home about that.
Most of our group is working on different tasks. Many did some digging. I think it’s in preparation for pouring concrete. Others did work on the F.O.H.O. guest house, and at least one person was teaching.
Wednesday, February 2, 2005 – I laid more block today. I did a really horrible job on some of it but got a little better over time. The late morning sun got really hot.
An interesting thing happened last night: it was really quiet. The guest house overlooks one of the busiest intersections in Port-au-Prince. Usually it’s just teeming with tons and tons of people and vehicles. Last night it was abandoned. We watched from the roof, and there was just one car driving through every couple minutes. This would be like seeing Times Square completely empty at 10:30pm. All the streetlights were on, and the traffic lights were out as usual. My best guess is that maybe a curfew was declared because of the shooting. Nobody seemed to know for sure.
Haiti doesn’t have sufficient electric power for Port-au-Prince, so the city has rolling blackouts. We have a generator, so we are not affected, but each night it seems like a different part of the city is black. Tonight it seems to be our part of town.
Today I gave away some of the suckers I brought. One of them was to a little girl sitting by her mom across the street from the guest house. Two more were to the daughters of the Haitian foreman working on the church. He has a Creole name that sounds something like “Eleanor.” In the afternoon – maybe after they get out of school?? – they start quietly hanging around the worksite until they go home with their dad. I took their picture because they were so cute sucking on the candy while their dad took a shower in the bathroom we have been building. (Fortunately, I didn’t get his whole body in the frame.)
After work and before dinner, I was interested in leaving the compound. I had casually discussed this with another guy, Brian, who recalled the rules saying that you had to be in a group of at least 2 when leaving the walls and groups with mixed genders need at least 2 of each. Today I asked Marv, one of our leaders, what the rules were for leaving the compound. He did not answer my question per se, but he did respond that he wants us to be with one of the leaders when we go. None of them were available today. Maybe tomorrow. I don’t have anything specific that I’m burning to do outside the walls, but I feel like it is such a wasted opportunity for me to sit inside and drink a Coke after work when I could be outside in the city. I can sit and drink Coke at home. There are other things I could be doing with this time such as reading the Bible, praying, writing, or hanging out with the other missionaries – but these are also things I could be doing at home. Seeing Haiti – I can’t do that at home. I can’t witness in Creole, but I could in English. And I’m sure there is plenty I could learn about the city and the culture.
Saturday, February 5, 2005 – It has been a few days since I last wrote. The reason is that I haven’t been following any of my regular routines while here. It does not bother me psychologically to interrupt my routine, but there are apparently several things that won’t get done unless I have established a time for them.
In the late morning and early afternoon, our group piled into a van and a truck and drove up the mountain to the Baptist Mission. We drove through a crowded market, enjoyed great views, saw super-expensive mansions, and bought souvenirs from street vendors. This was kinda cool.
Shortly after we returned, a much cooler thing happened. I was sitting in the lounge, and Brian came up to me. He told me someone at the gate named Mackensen was asking for me. This was one of the guys that had a conversation with me the previous afternoon when the group took a walk around the block. I was just going to talk to him through the gate, but Brian went outside to talk to his friend Jean (“John”) so I too went outside the gate. Mackensen had some dolls he wanted to sell me, but I told him I wasn’t interested. So we talked instead. He told me lots of things – I don’t know where to start. He said he was a Christian since May 2003. He said he used to be a bad guy but is now a good guy because he believes in God. I asked him if we were in a good part of town and where the bad parts were, and he said there’s no reason to be worried if you believe in God. After a little while, Brian came up to me. He asked me if I would go with him and Jean to the gas station because Jean needed to buy gas to cook with. This was an exciting question, and I really wanted to say yes. However, I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to do this. We both remember reading the official rules that say you need to be in a group of at least two when leaving the compound, but talking to Marv gave me the impression that they would like things to be much more restrictive. After a moment of indecision I agreed to go with him. I told Mackensen that I bought a book to learn Creole, and he told me that he would be happy to teach me Creole. We went to the gas station. Brian helped Jean buy milk for his baby, and Mackensen started teaching me Creole and even quizzed me.
After we returned from the gas station, Brian asked me if I would like to go to Jean’s home. Would I ever! On the walk there, I asked Mackensen if he had a girlfriend. He said no, he was waiting for God to give him one – it had to be a special kind of girl. At some point, Kenore joined us. He was another guy I met by the basketball court on Friday. We walked up stairs and more stairs to get to Jean’s home. There were lots of shacks along the way except that they were made of block instead of wood. There were many people just hanging around that I exchanged a friendly “Bon soir” with.
Wednesday, February 8, 2005 – I talked with Mackensen again this evening. The last time we talked, I didn’t have much to say, but I promised I would have “some words” for him. I tried to think of something last night, but I couldn’t focus much and nothing came to mind. I finally thought of something cool that Tricia should appreciate. I also showed him some pictures – one of Tricia, one of my parents, one of some friends from college, and one of some friends from home.
My trip is nearing its end. Our flight home leaves Friday morning, so tomorrow is our last workday. It has the promise of being a hectic day because we will be trying to get as much done as possible before leaving, there will be a wedding at the guest house for one of the Haitian workers, we will be packing all of our check luggage, and there will probably be some last minute bargaining with the street vendors. Thursday’s plans were discussed after dinner, but it was brief because it’s not really planned out.